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Young Rohingya man trafficked into indentured labor on Phuket

Phuket Still Linked to Slavery and Trafficking

Friday, June 12, 2009
TOURISTS who visit Phuket, and most of the island's residents, are unaware that the whole Andaman coast stretching down from Burma experiences people-smuggling in all its brutality.

Indeed, Phuket gains a special mention in a new booklet, Ten Things You Need to Know About Human Trafficking.

The booklet was launched today across mainland South-East Asia because June 12 marks the tenth anniversary of an international convention designed to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.

But insidious forms of modern slavery and predatory behavior towards the young and powerless persist.

Two strong new points are made in the booklet: young males as well as females are ''sold''; and disabled, diadvantaged people are extremely useful in begging syndicates.

Here's how Phuket figures in the booklet:

'In April 2008, 54 Myanmarese people, mostly women, suffocated while being smuggled on a container truck across the Thai border and on to Phuket. The illegal immigrants had boarded the truck voluntarily on the promise of work opportunities in Thailand.

'Later interviews revealed that they had paid around 5000 baht each (approx US$150) for the arrangement, but had almost no understanding of the conditions in which they would be travelling or what they would be doing on arrival.

'The truck was filled to capacity, the victims standing, when the air conditioning broke down and the air began to run out.

''We contacted the driver using a mobile phone, but he told us in Burmese to keep quiet and make no trouble,'' one survivor told the Bangkok Post newspaper. ''He switched off the phone and drove on.''

'In desperation the migrants started banging on the walls of the container, to no avail. So many died that when the container was finally opened the driver fled, and was arrested later.

'After escaping from their deadly ordeal the remaining sixty-six survivors were incarcerated while their cases were considered.

'They included a widow who saw her eight-year-old daughter die because she could not lift her to the level where the air was still breathable, a man whose wife of three weeks had suffocated beside him, and a 15-year-old boy who had taken the journey with his friend so they could afford school fees the following year. His friend did not survive.

'For days, Thai authorities and NGOs and lawyers wrangled over the case, arguing that the survivors should be treated as victims of trafficking and not criminals. However, under the Thai law at the time, men could not be considered trafficked, nor had any transaction yet taken place.

'The victims were fined; some of them who could not afford the fine served short jail sentences. Then they returned to Myanmar.

'While their treatment under the protection of social services departments on both sides was sympathetic, the law was simply not flexible enough to protect them as trafficking survivors.

'In June 2008 a new Thai Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act was passed which adopts the wider definition of trafficking, giving further protection to those who fall victim to exploitative and deceptive migration practices.

'The new law acknowledges that men can be trafficked.

'The driver was not charged with a trafficking offence, but with conspiracy to hide, help or smuggle illegal aliens into Thailand.

'In August 2008 he received a six-year jail sentence for his part.'

We have seen inside the container truck, and viewed the unforgettable police photos taken soon after they arrived at the scene.

Thankfully, there are people who are keen to bring change, including Ranong Immigration's Chief Inspector, Police Lieutenant Colonel Nattarit Pinpak, and the previous Governor of Ranong, Kanchana Pakeemun.

She negotiated with the Burmese authoritiesto ensure the container truck survivors were not mistreated.

Colonel Nattarit told us that six of the eight people connected to the container truck disaster have since been arrested and punished.

He also led a raid that arrested an important trafficking figure just a couple of weeks ago. Such arrests are rare.

Today, with the right contacts, it's still possible to ''buy'' another person to use or abuse in just about any way you wish, over the telephone, on the happy holiday island of Phuket.

Ten Things You Need to Know About Human Trafficking is, the release media handout says, an assessment of human trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region countries where child labor practices ''continue to be a serious concern.''

''It presents a broader picture of trafficking beyond the commercial sex industry, and provides case studies from both children and adults who have been trafficked for the purpose of labor exploitation.

''This includes exploitation within the fishing and farming industries, within the domestic servants market, as well as within the criminal sector (such as petty theft and begging by children).''

The trafficking brochure release comes from both Unicef and the World Vision Foundation of Thailand.

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Comments have been disabled for this article.


It's a truly depressing state of affairs. Yet speak to many Phuket people about the issue and it's of no interest.

Time and again illegal workers are fined and imprisoned, yet the companies openly "employing" these people are not even punished. The Burmese here cannot go out after 8pm, own a mobile phone or motorcycle. Welcome to Thailand.

Posted by Steve on June 12, 2009 23:35


I fully agree with Steve, everyone turns a blind eye. Sure every now and then you'll see the police raid a workers camp. It's a time old problem in Thailand ... money, greed and corruption. The fact is that the Thais find this type of situation as the norm and while they make money then NOTHING else seems to matter. As Steve pointed out ... Welcome to Thailand. Maybe the catch phrase should change ... Welcome to the land of apathy and greed!

Posted by Noddy on June 13, 2009 08:04


UNICEF, OK-- I accept them as a valuable and meaningful resource. But I strongly recommend that you disengage from using "World Vision" as a resource. They are in the business of collecting money to spread a very conservative Christian value system, NOT to respectfully assisting people from other cultures.
World Vision is run by ultra-right-wing christians. If I remember correctly, they were skewered in a "Sixty minutes" news report on USA TV about a decade ago, when the press revealed that World Vision spent 95% of donations on THEMSELVES, and did little more for people at physical risk than handing some a bible and a bar of soap.

Posted by R. Dawkins on June 13, 2009 11:09


To R Dawkins: you could not be more misinformed about world vision. What are you doing to reach out and help these people?

Posted by B Parsons on June 26, 2009 23:00

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